- The economic toll of a conviction is especially devastating for Black and brown people, who represent 80% of those who have a conviction.
- A conviction can lead to a loss of half a million dollars over a lifetime.
- New York State has the chance to reset the lives of more than two million of its residents by passing the Clean Slate NY Act.
- Ashish Prashar is the Global Chief Marketing Officer at R/GA and a justice reform activist.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I am extremely lucky to be where I am.
I am the Chief Marketing Officer for a global company. I have worked for elected officials in the UK and the US with their press corps and campaign operations. I own a home in Manhattan. And, by the way, I was incarcerated for a “crime”.
Incarceration has the most profound effect on the person who is serving time, but the consequences reach far beyond the prison walls. When I recently shared my story of being a formerly incarcerated person who made it to the C-Suite, I was again reminded of the destructive nature of our justice system. I heard from colleagues whose loved ones struggle to find work; of friends losing out on dream jobs because of background checks, and the emotional and psychological toll of experiencing these disappointments time and time again. The emotional strain on those individuals and their families was all too familiar. “What will become of me, of us?” is a question that never goes away.
My success has been nurtured by providence from people who understood that my mistake would doom me to a Sisyphean challenge, unable to reach the top of that proverbial hill, unless they became determined to help me. That challenge? A criminal justice system that extracts a pound of flesh and, like the vengeful Javert, routinely returns to perpetually punish people like me for a mistake.
My good fortune though, is incredibly rare. I am blessed to have had family members with the means to support me and a prospective employer willing to give me a chance. Many people don’t have this kind of support. For most incarcerated people, once they are out they fall back into cycles of deprivation that usually got them there in the first place, doomed to steal that proverbial loaf of bread again because their criminal records carry a scarlet letter that allows society to treat them as “less than.” We must create an environment where more people can tell a story like mine.
A conviction’s enduring collateral damage can be wide-ranging – permanently barring individuals from basic needs like employment and housing. Even though people who are released are said to be free, they’re not. They are over-supervised, over-policed, pushed out of employment, housing, and school, and often harassed back into incarceration.
The economic toll of a conviction record is especially devastating for Black and brown people, who represent 80% of those who have received a conviction. They experience higher unemployment and poverty rates, and estimates show that a conviction can cause a loss of nearly $500,000 in income over a lifetime.
We are not just causing further economic and emotional harm, we are also wasting potential that could be working to discover cures to deadly illnesses, designing cleaner and greener cities, or, like me, revitalizing Main Street brands. The economic benefits to both employers and the national economy are clear. It’s essential that our laws are changed because we can’t rely on individual acts of kindness or a company to do the right thing.
Wipe the Slate Clean
New York State has the chance to lead the way and give more than two million of its residents a second chance through “Clean Slate” legislation. Advocates and impacted people seek a new law that will automatically seal and expunge a resident’s conviction record once they are eligible.
Right now, the system we have for expungement in New York is broken. It is application-based, extraordinarily difficult to navigate and costly. In the three years since this system was created, less than 1% of eligible people have successfully had their records expunged.
The Clean Slate legislation proposed in Albany is designed as a two-step process to end the perpetual punishment of a conviction record. A conviction will be automatically sealed one year after sentencing on the individual’s last misdemeanor conviction and three years after sentencing on their last felony conviction, not including time incarcerated.
A conviction will be automatically expunged five years after sentencing on the individual’s last misdemeanor conviction and seven years after sentencing on their last felony conviction.
This is a common sense step that will make New York’s communities stronger. And we know that these types of systems work. A recent study found that within two years of clearing their records under Michigan law, individuals’ wages increased by an average of 25%. According to the same Michigan study, five years after benefitting from record clearance, individuals were less likely than members of the general public to commit crimes.
Our system punishes people unfairly. Millions of New Yorkers are needlessly unemployed or underemployed, homeless or without permanent housing, just because they have a conviction record.
Formerly incarcerated people are not a separate population; they are members of our society. They are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and friends and must be treated as such. I may be the exception in this system, but I want my experience to become the rule. That’s why we need the Clean Slate NY Act.